1 – Cinnamon
Two sticks walk into a bar. That’s not a joke. It’s simply the way this story begins. The bar? – The High-Bar Club, Beamtown’s social center for the highbrow and the hopeful, those who have wealth and those who wish for it. Politicians, playwrights, real estate developers, doctors, lawyers, and all who wish to run with that crowd, keep the club filled to capacity, conspicuously consuming good food, good drink, good entertainment, and great dancing; all offered in artificial smoke filled, laser streaked, rhinestones-on-dancers bedazzled, music thumping, fast-blood pumping, sweat dripping, hop-hipping amazement.
Each night of the week The High-Bar Club offers a different musical theme, and a different genre of style. One night could find cowboys and cowgirls cavorting on stick horses. The next evening could include the hard hammering beat of heavy metal, or rock and roll, or rap, or punk or…….there’s no limit to the choices. Another night might offer the staff dressed as old world natives from the Dark Continent, or a tropical isle, or the icy setting of an arctic cavern. Still another could be a ball room soiree with every employee donned in the full regalia of a bygone era, whether the cloud-like festooning of swishing, swirling gowns for the ladies, along with frilled shirts, long tailed topcoats, gloved hands and kerchiefs for the gentleman; or zoot-suited waiters swing-dancing their way past slender waitresses, barely covered with roaring-twenties fringe.
One secret of the High-Bar’s long-term success is the carefully managed mystique surrounding the nightly entertainment. It’s all kept quite secret. From night to night customers have no idea what they’ll find when they arrive, until they arrive. The ‘draw’ is full blown customer astonishment in a setting where no expense is spared, no drumbeat wasted, no comic laugh unexploited, and not one inch of sensual skin left unseen in an ambiance that begins as rich entertainment, then gradually, purposefully, progresses from righteous to risqué to raunchy, with the unspoken intent of culling the diners and laughers from the herd of drinkers and free-spenders, who come for the real draw, to stay late, drink mightily, spend heavily, and keep the place going full power and full speed until four in the morning.
It is this place, this space, filled with the acrid air of leftover smoke and sweat, the now stale aromas of prime rib, flaming desserts, tipped wine from crystal goblets, beer spilled from frosted mugs, and the occasional whiff of vomit contributed by a last-call die hard who didn’t make it to the bathroom door or the alley; it is this place into which two sticks walk, ready to begin the next shift.
Cinnamon uses a key, one of many on a large ring of keys, to unlock the service door at the back of the High-Bar Club, where she is the General Manager. As the lock tumblers turn and click, Peppermint takes hold of the door handle, and waits for the sound of the bolt retracting. Hearing the lock slide and release, Peppermint pulls to open the door, and steps back so Cinnamon can enter first.
Cinnamon the manager is precise, routine-loving, a driven perfectionist; a leader ready to unleash a tirade of tasks on the High-Bar workers, then expect the first-spoken of those tasks to be in progress by the time she adds the final instruction, seconds later.
Among many other things, it is Cinnamon’s responsibility to oversee the clean-up of the activities of the night before. Her cleaning crew, all of a single family, long employed by the club, the Handles, include Mop, Broom, Spade, Brush, and Rake. Each is an expert in their respective tasks, whether pushing tracked-in dust and dropped debris into a pan, scouring porcelain surfaces with stiff bristles, or soaking away and sopping up the putrid, semi-liquid leavings of last night’s last-call die-hards.
Long, elaborate, exhausting training exercises, created and led by Cinnamon, have perfected in the Handles a lightning-fast routine, which in less than two hours will turn a room stinking with rancid perfume and body odor, dinged by smoke, and left oily by air-borne cooking ingredients, which permeate the air and coat every surface with an unwanted slimy glaze, into a gleaming, pristine ready-for-the next show paradise, which customers often mistake, on their next visit, as an entirely redecorated establishment. Cinnamon demands and receives the best from her staff.
Cinnamon also tends bar. Not only is it another part of her job, but it puts her front and center in the club, so she can watch every worker, every customer, the front door, the back door, the bouncers, the gate keepers, and the stage. From the bar she can easily watch everything.
The cash register is right beside her. Waitresses come and go to settle tabs and transactions for customers. Sometimes, a waitress who thinks herself a little too clever will try to overcharge for a drink, then pocket the difference when the payment is processed. Sometimes, waitresses try to use their trays to cover the grabbing of sticky fingers in an attempt to steal money from the till.
The entire lounge, like an oversized theater, is in Cinnamon’s view, and so is the security crew. Bouncers will try to pick the pockets of those who have over-imbibed; and the more out of control the drunks are, the more physical contact and tussling required for their removal, the better the ‘take’ for the guards of the club.
The outside of the front door, covered by a large porch, is well lit and viewable on a closed circuit TV, under the cash register. Gate-keepers, the Stanchion brothers, often think themselves unseen, as they accept bribes, slipped low from hand to hand, by the more arrogant patrons who think themselves too important to wait in the long que line.
Additional outdoor cameras allow for full supervision of all activities, whether it’s scalpers selling fake passes to queued customers, valet parkers searching cars for loot, or Pickup Sticks selling ‘tricks’ on the corner.
The band leader, Baton, keeps a hat on the floor by the piano for tips. But it’s really a hat within a hat, a secret he thinks is his alone, and sometimes he will swap the top to bottom positions of the hats, keeping most of the money in the one on the bottom, but show Cinnamon the money from the hat on the top, so the house, fooled, he believes, will take it’s cut from the least amount.
On the stage will be dancers, whose job is to simply lean, and sway, and twirl around. Sometimes there’s a flowing gown involved. Other times include a pole and no gown at all. Late at night, actually the next morning’s wee hours, has the girls alternating from spinning around the pole to gyrating near the audience along the edge of the stage, to accept money tossed in their direction, or lustily stuffed into whatever clothing stays on their bodies as the act progresses. But sometimes, thinking the room’s atmosphere is raucous enough to hide their actions, the dancers will promise sexual attention later, for upfront payments now.
Cinnamon the bar-keep can act warm, friendly, interested, even enthralled with the stories shared by her customers. To their faces she calls them, “my favorite bar-stool buddies.” Of the long-time regulars, she knows their names, the names of their spouses, children, significant others, and secret lovers. She knows where they work, if they do well at their jobs, how much they’re paid, where they play, which is mostly on the bar stool in front of her, and the dark secrets that only an attentive bar tender can know; secrets which can, if seen in the light of day, cause ruin from which these ‘buddies’ will never recover, secrets which Cinnamon always has ready to pass up the club’s chain of command, where extortion is their ultimate end use; and that is another secret of the High-Bar’s success.
The worst mistake an unscrupulous employee, or associate, can make is thinking that Cinnamon’s friendliness with the bar crowd makes her too soft to care, or too busy to see any nefarious activities. But Cinnamon misses nothing. She doesn’t watch to prevent sordid behavior. Instead, she is under direct orders to make sure that of every penny exchanged, stolen or swapped, the ‘house’ gets a seventy percent cut. Anyone caught stealing, just gets cut.
Cinnamon the person, in all her years at this job, has allowed nothing of any importance to the business to get past her. Much of this is because of her driven, perfectionistic personality. Some of it is because she actually likes doing her job. A part is her genuine affection for the High-Bar staff, who all share one thing.
The peculiarities of life common to almost everyone here: personal loathing, repetitive failure, and unshakable addictions, all being the results of calamities piled on and unresolvable, have reduced each one to a state so low and beaten down, that the long, slow slide to the bottom of the barrel has progressed, unrestrained, until, on opening one’s eyes in the pit, there is one final choice, one glimmer of hope, one level to step up to, one last chance, The High-Bar Club. No one goes here. They’ve all just ended up here.
Along with being a precise, detail oriented, routine-loving, driven, perfectionist, Cinnamon also holds the character trait of a mother hen. She really cares for those who work with her. She can’t help it. She doesn’t understand it. She just cares. She also keeps it to herself.
Cinnamon’s Path : She doesn’t remember always being this way. Her mother, another cinnamon stick, and her father, a sassafras root, had been loving, though to a smaller degree than she would’ve preferred. Even so, she had never felt abused or mistreated, just sort of left out, because affection from her parents always followed as the last thing after a disappointment.
Her mother was a party lover, searching for a way to rekindle the good times of her youth, by pretending to be the life of every party. Sadly for her, she was always upstaged by a slew of more slender, more tan, more fragrant, sticks of spice. She stayed miserable. But she was never stingy with praise for Cinnamon saying, “You are the most beautiful one in the world. The greatest thing I’ve ever done is help make you.” Unfortunately, her actions didn’t prove that she believed it. She stayed aloof and self-serving.
Cinnamon’s father was always in some sort of brouhaha, trying to get rich quick, but never succeeding. He would punish himself for each new failure by dipping in too-hot water, then sipping from the tub, calling it, “brew-ha-ha, the only part of my sorry life that makes any sense,” then adding a self-deprecating, double meaning joke, “I’m drinking myself to oblivion, ha-ha.” But he was always quick to offer, “Cinnamon, you are the one bright spot in my life. You are the best part of your mother and me.” Sadly, his main attention was always on the next gimmick, so his affection never felt sincere.
Her life followed a rollercoaster path, peaked and valleyed with her parent’s new ideas for glory, and fits of self-pity. Even with the occasional salve of a loving compliment, she still felt a little left out, until something happened that made her feel all the way out. Both parents left.
They had a huge argument, one of those loud it’s-not-my-fault-it’s-your-fault screaming matches, which ended with each parent leaving through and slamming a separate apartment exit door, shouting at the same time, “I’m leaving, and I’m never coming back!,” which they did, and never did.
Eighteen year old Cinnamon found herself entirely alone. Within weeks she had to leave the three room apartment that had been her lifelong home, because there was no rent money, and because she wanted to avoid being made a ward of the State. Being evicted helped her become a run-away, and, she feared, a fugitive from the Social Welfare System.
For three years she kept moving, afraid of being pursued by Welfare Agents, though none chased. Because she was never officially made a ward of the State, no paperwork had ever been started, nor even a case opened, but she didn’t know that.
So, she hid by day, and moved by night. She stole food to eat. She stole clothes for warmth. She slept anyplace dark and out of the winter wind; and constantly looked for her parents.
On a cold night in pouring rain she made the mistake of stepping from a hiding place to find something hot to drink. As it happened, she stepped right into the view of two drunk posts leaning against the front of a store, sharing a smoldering cancer stick, who had also walked by, too close, and been captured.
“Welllll, looky, looky heeere,” one drawled to the other, “We got us a pretty little stem to play wiiiith.”
Cinnamon turned away from the posts and began to quick-walk along the street. The down-pouring rain, running across her eyes, made it hard to see. Dim light from inside the now closed stores cast soft, glowing beams into the torrent, creating an eerie, rain-warped blur. Nothing was in focus.
Her fast pace had put some distance between the posts and herself. She tried to use that time to find an open door, but because the deluge made everything be out of focus, she couldn’t tell the difference between a glass door and a window. A lot of time was wasted feeling along for a door handle. When one was finally discovered, it was locked, and she had to move on to the next. As she slowed and tested, the posts, walking fast themselves, closed the distance. Then, they were right beside her. “I said,” the post repeated, “We got us a stem to play with.”
Cinnamon looked every way for an escape route. Her back was to a short, dead-end alley. The posts were to her left. A lamp post was standing on the corner to her right, but offered no help, because it was either frozen with fear, or plainly not interested. Straight ahead was clear. That’s where she would run. But, before she had time to move, the two posts had her in their clutches, pulling her back and forth, trying to kiss her, and tearing at her clothes.
The speed of life suddenly switched to slow motion for Cinnamon. She had plenty of time to take in every detail of the attack. She felt and saw the filthy hands pawing her body, tearing her clothes, then pawing over her bare bark. Their wood was swelling but not from the rain. Back and forth they pulled her, each post trying to keep her longer. As they spun her around and pressed her back to the wall to take her, the tugging switched from pulling on her arms to pushing on her shoulders and hips. Then, a pause.
The posts held her firmly against the brick storefront, one with a hand against the middle of her chest, the other pushing his hips against her stomach. She was pinned, barely covered by a dress that was now rain-drenched rags. The posts began to argue over which would have her first.
“Good,” she thought as her panic subsided. “At least their argument buys me some time to think.” Her intention was to think of a way to get loose, but, inexplicably, her mind didn’t go there. In those milliseconds of slow motion thought-time Cinnamon involuntarily reviewed the path that had brought her to this point in her life. The unrealistic goals of her lost parents – the futile search for riches and youth – had landed her on the street, where she had done nothing but create her own unrealistic goal, finding a Mom and Dad who clearly didn’t want to be found, and who had obviously abandoned her. In all the hiding, and searching, and stealing, and exhaustive running, she had put that goal ahead of herself, her health, her very life; and now, here she was, about to be gang raped by two dumb-as-stump posts, for no better reason than that she had carelessly made herself handy. Then one thought came to her about the current situation, “They’re drunk. I’m sober. They’re thoughtlessly following the most basic instinct. I’m fully aware……………..the scales are balanced.”
A rage of resolve swelled in her entire being. She would be ‘handy’ no more! The slow-motion haze vanished. She became a full on, fast motion, fiercely powered, total impact fighter. In an instant she changed from being a limp, rag-tag, thug-controlled victim, to being a whirlwind of flailing arms and legs. She spat in their faces, and kicked them both at once, targeting their swollen wood. As they guffed in pain, the pressure of their bodies, holding her to the wall, lessened.
Five minutes earlier she would have argued that this would be the time when she would run. But she stayed. She was furious. It was her time to attack. Their eyes became targets, as she gouged fingers, full force, intending to blind them, and succeeded. More blows, and slaps, and kicks were landed with more force than a roll of tree bark would ever be expected to have. She yelled, emphasizing her words with each fresh blow of elbows to chests, and knees to wood, “I am NOT a STEM to be PLAYED with, Mother BREAKER!”
The tide turned for the drunken attackers. Their casual foray into rape for personal pleasure became a losing fight for personal survival. They both fell onto the sidewalk, arms raised for protection, but their positions were indefensible. They were down, and it was her goal to make sure they never wanted to get up, and never could.
Heels stomped temples. Feet kicked sides. Arms, fists, knees, and elbows unleashed a torrent of blows rivaling the rain. One post lapsed unconscious, but the other, lying face down in the street gutter, was still moving. She jumped on and straddled his back. She realized this position made it difficult to strike, but, thanks to this one under her, she had one more weapon. A long tatter of her dress was hanging free, torn from her breast by this miserable excuse for a stick. Though it would leave her upper body completely naked, modesty was not considered, as she tore the tatter free. She pulled it tight between her hands to test its strength, and was satisfied that it would do the job she had in mind.
The rag was quickly twisted into a tightly wound rope, and threaded under the post’s chin. She crossed her arms to grab opposite ends on each side of his neck, wrapped the rag’s ends around her hands, made fists to hold the ‘rope’ tight, and, screaming a war cry, pulled with all her might.
At first, because he was so drunk, and perhaps because he was so beaten, there was no response from the post. But, as his body, by reflex, tried to breath and couldn’t, and tried to force his lungs to find air, and failed, he began to struggle, grabbing at his throat to remove the obstruction. But there was nothing he could do. Cinnamon, on his back and out of reach, had the advantage, and continued to take it. He became still. The liquid sound of a few, final, guttural gurgles mixed with the spattering rain.
This was a sound she would gladly remember. She still pulled hard on the rag, not yet ready to let go, and as she pulled, she savored every drop of falling rain, and every dying rattle from his throat. It was a state of bliss, …..but her bliss was interrupted.
“That will be quite enough, young lady.” The deep, resonant voice had come from behind her.
She froze, still pulling on the rag, but it was less taught. Slowly turning in the direction of the voice, Cinnamon kept her eyes down, expecting to see the polished shoes of a policeman. But, there were no shoes. Instead, resting in an inch of gutter water, she saw a bright bronze tap, so highly polished that even the rain couldn’t diminish its shine. The tap was firmly attached to a dowel of ebony wood. Panting and sweating, gradually releasing her death grip on the tattered rag around the throat of her attacker-turned-victim, her eyes traced the shape upward. Midway the black-polished shaft was decorated by an inch high inlay of teak and maple in a checkered-diamond pattern. Ebony as black as black could be, but polished to a mirror sheen, continued almost to the top. There, another matching inlay was crossed by a gold, diamond-tipped stick pin. Above that, her eyes met two glistening, bronze tinted orbs, eyes, one monocled, but both with a soft expression that seemed to say, “There’s nothing to fear.” Above those safe-saying eyes, a cap of gold cord, woven into a lattice, circled with diamonds, and topped by a huge, sparkling, crystal-clear gemstone, served as the finishing crown.
She had just committed murder in an uncontrolled rage, which should still be boiling inside her, but all she could think, as she gazed on this one who had interrupted her ‘kill’ was, “Wow, he’s beautiful.”
Her grip on the rag had been fully released long enough for the post beneath her to cough, then wheeze in a ragged breath. She instantly reacted with returning rage, automatically spinning around to re-apply the strangle-hold.
“That won’t be necessary, my dear,” calmed the interrupter, “I assure you, neither of these posts will ever bother you again.”
Cinnamon obeyed, released her death grip, got off the post, and stood up. Immediately the post tried to raise up, but the dark dowel quickly jumped on his back, landing sharply between the post’s shoulders, forcing his body and face back down into the gutter, and ordered, “Don’t even try to move.”
“Yes, boss,” came a raspy reply.
“Boss?” Cinnamon asked.
“Just a moment,” was the returned answer, then turning to the lamp post he ordered, “Call the Stick Breaker. Tell him where they are, and I want them to be kindling by morning.”
Mystified, Cinnamon asked timidly, “You’re talking to a lamp post?”
“Oh, he’s much more than a lamp post,” came the answer. “Look up a little.”
Cinnamon moved her eyes along the tall shape of the lamp’s base, then, looking higher, realized there was much more height to the top with wires extending in two directions, parallel to the street.
“See?,” the ebony stick asked, then provided the answer, “He’s not just a lamp post. He’s also a telephone pole. When he saw the trouble you were in, he called me, because these two work………well, until right this minute, they worked for me.”
“And I thought he was just standing there, refusing to help,” she said, then turning toward the hanging bulb, added, “Thank you.” The bulb flashed a couple of times, meaning “You’re welcome.”
Cinnamon looked around at the scene of the attack. Both posts, still alive, were sitting up, but made no attempt to speak or move. So, murder hadn’t been committed, after all, she thought. But, she had sure given it her best shot, and witnesses had seen it. She turned her attention back to those shining orbs and asked, “Now, what happens?”
Her intercessor, her savior, whatever he was, answered back, “My child, nothing bad happens……,” then alternating his gaze from her to the posts and back, added, smiling, “…to you.”
There was an awkward silence, as Cinnamon processed those words, and she realized that the attack was over, the rain was letting up, a combination lamp post-telephone pole had helped her, and she had prevailed against her attackers. The only problem was the unsettling feeling that ‘control’ of this situation was not in her hands, but held, instead, by the ‘beautiful’ stranger, standing so majestically before her. She tried one more time to get a grasp of the situation, by repeating, “Now, what happens?”
“I came here,” he began, “to stop my employees from committing a rape in public. I was just going to stop them, scold them a little bit, then send you on your way with a lot of money in exchange for your silence.” He paused to look at his workers, still sitting quietly with their backs against the wall of a store. They were looking at each other, and clearly put at ease by his “scold-them-a-little” statement. “However,” he continued, calmly, “When I got here, and saw the severity of their attack, I realized they are no better than animals, and I don’t hire animals, so, now I know, they have to go.”
The posts eyes widened, fully round, in fear, as they realized that a little scolding was no longer an option. One post jerked reflexively, as his mind and body automatically tried to decide whether or not to run. When one post jerked, the other did, too. But, their boss was quick to sternly order, “Don’t you dare move. It will only make it worse.” The posts froze in place, still wide-eyed, resigned that there was no escape.
He turned his attention back to Cinnamon. “What really changed my mind was seeing that you stayed to fight. You didn’t run, when you had the chance.”
Defiantly Cinnamon responded, “I’ll never run again,…..not from these two, not from anything…….or anyone…….ever.”
“And that’s what I love about you,” he emphasized, then added after a very short pause, “Do you want a job?”
With timid surprise she answered, “A job?…….well…..yes…..I could use a job.” Then a question came to her, “What kind of job?”
“I have a little place, just a few blocks away,” he explained. “My general manager is overworked, and needs an assistant. You’ve shown exactly the traits needed for the job. The pay is good, so you can get an apartment, ….not a dump, ….a nice one. Will you start in the morning?”
Mesmerized by the turn of events, she almost whimpered, “Ooooookaaaaaay,” but she was looking around, surveying the street with a questioning expression, the meaning of which he was quick to sense, and verbalized for her, “What about tonight?” She answered quietly, “Yes. What about tonight?”
“There’s a hotel on the next block. We’ll put you up there for a few days, until you find an apartment. I’ll have someone help you buy some new clothes, something managerial,” he smiled, “The business will pay for everything. It’s a perk of working for me,” he stated, not even trying to hide his personal pride.
She still had a couple of questions. “And where will I be working tomorrow morning?”
“About six blocks over,” he pointed in a direction with his thumb. “The High-Bar Club,” then he added a question of his own, “What’s your name, honey?”
“Cinnamon,” then, thankful for the opening to ask her last question, “And who will I be working for?”
More self-importance was added in his answer, “I’m Walker Cane.”
Narrator : “Saved from the clutches of an act of violence, by her own courageous actions, will young Cinnamon find safety and security in her new job? How will she progress to General Manager? Will the two posts be kindling by morning? Will she be at peace working as an assistant manager in The High-Bar Club? Or, will she be disturbed when she sees the full power at the disposal of Walker Cane?
All answers will begin to form, as Stick People continues.
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Chapter 2 : Masquerade
by Andy Bozeman ©2015
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